Scientific knowledge of COVID-19 is limited. The novel coronavirus that started in December 2019 and quickly became a pandemic has medical professionals and scientists scrambling to find all the pieces of this mysterious puzzle. Experts are using data to determine how to stop the spread of a virus causing illness, death, and economic woes around the world.
So far it is known that COVID-19 is a respiratory virus transmitted from human to human by respiratory droplets. Infected people disperse virus particles into the air when they cough, sneeze, breathe, or even speak. If a person breathes in these airborne particles, they can become infected. These virus particles can also be picked up when they land on surfaces. People touch them and transfer them to their nose, eyes, or mouth with their infected fingers causing possible infection.
Because so many aspects of this novel virus are unknown, people are worried about how coronavirus spreads and how they can become infected. Sure, it is relatively easy to wash hands, use sanitizer, and avoid touching the face. But what happens when virus particles are floating in the air? Is the heavy breathing jogger that just passed you on the sidewalk expelling coronavirus particles into the air you are breathing? There is a lot of confusion about this topic, and it is important to have as much information as possible to stay safe and avoid infection. Here are some of the facts about airborne COVID-19 particles.
Is coronavirus airborne?
While it has been established that COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that probably travels through the air, no one is 100 percent certain about how coronavirus spreads through the air. There are two ways virus particles can make their way into the air and possibly infect someone nearby.
The first way this happens is when an infected person expels virus-containing mucus droplets into the air by coughing or sneezing. The droplets become airborne and float around in the air for a certain period of time while expanding and spreading out slowly. Because these particles are relatively heavy, they may not stay in the air for a long time, and they may fall to surfaces more quickly than in the case of aerosol form. The virus particles are still infectious when they fall to the surfaces and people are more likely to come into contact with them there.
The other way virus particles get into the air is as an aerosol-type spray. This happens when air from the lungs is expelled, by breathing. The virus particles in aerosol form are much smaller than in airborne form and may travel through the air for a longer period of time before falling to surfaces.
While it has not yet been proven that COVID-19 travels efficiently through the air, scientists do agree that transmission through aerosol form is more dangerous than droplet form. The smaller virus particles can float longer and move around further.
These theories have led government officials and medical professionals to suggest that people maintain safe distances of at least six feet between themselves, to avoid closed-in areas, to wear facemasks in public, and to keep rooms well ventilated by opening a window and getting fresh air in. Many areas around the country are under stay-at-home orders and residents are required to wear face masks when using essential services, such as going to the grocery store.
Concerned about your health? Call your doctor.If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to COVID-19, you can call your primary health care provider to ask for advice on what action you should take. Medicare has expanded their telehealth services to accommodate patients. Your physician will evaluate your symptoms and if warranted, may send you to get a COVID-19 test. Medicare covers the cost of the test and treatment you may need if you are diagnosed with it.
For more detailed information regarding the coronavirus pandemic, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the official Medicare website.